WBA Featherweight Boxing – Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz II

by Adrian Clarke

If you like your boxing to be elite, express-paced, edge of the seat stuff, you’ll already know when to set your alarm for Sunday morning.

Carl Frampton versus Leo Santa Cruz II at the MGM Grand is a live candidate to be the best fight of 2017. Do. Not. Miss. It.

Sports writer Adrian Clarke sets the scene for a world title bout that’s got pulses racing on both sides of the pond…

Leo Santa Cruz isn’t nicknamed El Terremoto (The Earthquake) without good reason. The Mexican is a three-weight world champion who has spent his entire career suffocating opponents with an avalanche of destructive punches.

The brilliant 28-year-keeps on coming at you, and in the end, he buries you.

Not Carl Frampton though.

Not the fighting pride of Northern Ireland, who travelled across the Atlantic last July not just to try his luck in a heavier weight division, not just to prove he wouldn’t crumble, but to fight fire with fire and wrench the WBA Featherweight belt away from one of the finest unbeaten boxers of this generation.

And now The Jackal is back in America with belt in hand, geared up to do it all over again.

The first encounter was an epic between two fighters at the top of their game, with Frampton proving beyond doubt that he is pound-for-pound the best boxer in the British Isles.

Inside a packed Barclays Centre in New York, Santa Cruz predictably flew at the Ulsterman, letting fly with an incredible 1,100 punches – but over the course of a dozen thrill-a-minute rounds, Frampton proved quicker, smarter, braver, fitter and more skilled than any of his previous 33 opponents.

While I scored it 115-113 for Frampton, the judges at ringside called it differently, with one making it a 114-114 draw, and the others seeing it 116-112 and 117-111 in the Brit’s favour.

Those wide contradictions tainted the night a little (how could they see the same fight so differently?) but at least the right man won a top quality duel.

Priced up at a pretty reasonable 7/5 to gain revenge in Las Vegas, don’t write off the prospect of Leo Santa Cruz reclaiming his title. I see this as a genuine 50/50 fight.

Last time there were mitigating circumstances, when his father Jose Santa Cruz Snr (who doubles up as his trainer) was diagnosed with cancer in the build-up. Treatment forced him to miss large chunks of the pre-fight camp.

Did it impact on his performance?

I’m not convinced – Santa Cruz looked focused and fantastic on the night – but the dethroned featherweight insists he lost a slight edge through worry, and the absence of his dad pushing him to the limit.

Now in remission, and fighting in an arena where he has boxed six times before, there are no such excuses second time around.

After coming through a journey into the unknown last summer to become the first Northern Irishman to win world titles at two weights, Frampton’s trainer Shane McGuigan believes his charge will win even more convincingly this time.

He no longer fears the step up in weight or class, and has taken enormous confidence from the win. It was his short, sharp left hooks that troubled El Terremoto all night in Brooklyn, with a second round shot giving him jelly legs, so expect that to be his weapon of choice in the rematch.

Grosvenor Sport Price Boost

Frampton to win by KO or TKO has been given a Price Boost from 33/10 to 4/1, and there will be plenty taking those odds.

If The Jackal does land a knockout blow, I fancy it would be early on when his super-fit opponent might be tempted to charge in a little too exuberantly. The intelligent Brit is sure to lay traps, and if the durable Santa Cruz falls for it, he could be made to pay.

I like the look of a Frampton KO between Rounds 1-6, which is on offer at 13/2.

Based on what we saw in the original scrap, it does seem as if Frampton has the chin to absorb the Mexican’s power. He’s also slippery by nature, so won’t be hard to catch clean.

The one sticking point is that Santa Cruz should have learned from his mistakes. While it’s true that he only knows one way to box, he charged in a bit too recklessly in New York, instead of using his pronounced reach advantage.

Will Santa Cruz Keep Out Of Reach?

Providing Santa Cruz gets his distances right and attacks from a little further way, it’s not unfeasible that the Mexican’s immense work rate will help him to win on points in this rematch.

That’s an 11/4 shot that appeals.

Personally, as a huge admirer of his mental strength and punching repertoire I can’t oppose Carl Frampton. I think he’s the real deal. So my pick is that he will win on points again (another Price Boost: 6/4 from 13/10) but make no mistake this is a very dangerous fight.

Win or lose, I’d love to see this one become a trilogy…

(Image by Håkan Dahlström)